Monday, February 27, 2017

A Post-Oscars Analysis: Winners, Ceremony, and Looking to the Future.

I've never done one of these before, nor did I have any intention of doing so, but with everything that's gone down in the last few hours, I simply couldn't step away from addressing this. Because, oh my lord, did things take a turn for the crazy...

As far as the actual ceremony went, it was a fairly good outing with some major, but not crippling bumps in the road. Speeches were eloquent and succinct (Asghar Farhadi's speech - given by his designated recipient in protest of Trump's controversial travel ban - being a standout), time was overlong as expected, though not intolerable, and in a very pleasant surprise, Jimmy Kimmel proved a greatly compelling and funny host. That overlong gimmick about tourists visiting the theater went absolutely nowhere, having nothing to do with the ceremony in general, but that was probably the only real drawback of the production quality (well, as far as planned events go, but we'll get to that). Kimmel managed to strike that perfect balance between classiness and charm, while also working in biting and superbly timed gags and wordplay. The monologue in particular had some early outstanding zingers, and the momentum certainly kept up, with gags like his taunts at Donald Trump, and his continual trolling of Matt Damon leaving me in fits. This is actually everything that I wanted out of the Oscars when Neil Patrick Harris hosted (In which case, I can't remember the last time my enjoyment of a ceremony dropped as quickly or as harshly as it did there), and this was easily my favorite Oscar ceremony in recent memory.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My official predictions for the 89th annual Academy Awards.

Once again, the annual Academy Awards ceremony is just around the corner. On Sunday, AMPAS will hold their 89th awards ceremony honoring what they feel best represents the greatest achievements in film. Certainly this year's ceremony will not be controversial in any usual fashion, with the Academy not only taking steps in acknowledging the events of the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco, but Hollywood in general stepping up their game in showcasing films with prominent characters of non-white race.

In fact, far more controversial were the events of 2016 outside the Oscars (of which I've already covered in length), and all eyes watching the ceremony must be curious just how much they'll be letting the hot-headed and fear-mongering current US President have it, and not merely in whatever material host Jimmy Kimmel has up his sleeve.

But I'm here to predict winners rather than events of the show, so like I've done every year for several years, I'll once again run through all of my final predictions for all 24 categories that the Academy will honor. And honestly, this is a very rare year in which the technical categories feel far more contested than the major categories, so those famous below the line categories that people pay less attention to could ultimately hurt my score. Still, this is as confident as I'll ever be, so without further ado, let's start from the bottom up...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Top 15 Most Anticipated Films of 2017...

Oh boy, was 2016 ever such a disappointing year. I think I speak for all of us when I say I'm happy that we can finally put that disaster (not merely in film) behind us, and look ahead to the future. Surely things must be looking bright going forward - I mean, aside from a petty and depraved egotist running the White House, but still...

And yes, one of those areas include a great number of potentially good-to-great films, with films covering various different genres and experimentation, as well as seeing the return of directorial talents like Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and many more. Admittedly, I've learned that I really need to tone down my excitement, knowing full well that quite a number of these could potentially disappoint, but my eagerness to see them all still stands. So once again, I'll be listing down my top fifteen most anticipated films of 2017.

I only have a couple select rules in putting this list together, as always: The film must have a guaranteed release for this year, or at least have some trajectory aimed at releasing it this year (hence why I'm leaving off Alfonso Cuaron's Roma). The film must also have not come out yet (ie. The Lego Batman Movie), and if the film made the list or the honorable mentions last year (like Personal Shopper with Kristen Stewart, or James Franco's The Masterpiece), it will not be eligible for this year.

Also, this list mainly caters to those films with bigger clout to them that many independent films don't, not accounting for smaller or more experimental films like Birdman making their way into the fold, so this list is purely how it stands at the moment. And if a film you're personally anticipating isn't on here, I either haven't heard of it, I'm looking forward to it, but not enough to put it on the list, or I'm simply not anticipating it at all (Hey there, Kong: Skull Island).

First up, we'll start with some honorable mentions:
25. Battle of the Sexes

24. The Greatest Showman

23. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

22. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

21. The Darkest Hour

20. The Death of Stalin

19. Mute

18. Molly's Game

17. Coldest City

16. Murder on the Orient Express

And now onto the big fifteen...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Top Ten Best Films of 2016...

Welcome back everyone, as we can finally start to look at the positives of what looked to be an otherwise very bleak year, and despite the very moody and cynical ways of thinking that soured it, let it not be mistaken that this year did see some truly wonderful stuff.

Pop culture alone experienced a great revitalization with numerous properties hitting TV screens, silver screens, sports, music, and technology. Whether it be shows like Stranger Things becoming instant cult favorites, Pokemon Go revitalizing the mobile phone experience, people uniting as the Olympic Games took place and the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in decades, or even Broadway's Hamilton rejuvenating music and musical theater and taking the world by storm, the year offered something for every type of fan. Heck, even our films made long overdue moves in the right direction, as following the #OscarsSoWhite movement and the lack of representation in the industry, 2016 answered back with numerous films addressing those concerns, featuring non-white lead characters or mostly non-white casts (films that included Lion, Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures, and many more). Even Disney got their voice heard, with Zootopia tackling issues of racism in an accessible and hopeful manner, all on its way to becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. Even putting aside politics, while 2016 was a largely disposable affair with some notable bumps along the way, its output from October onward yielded such great effort, from independent fare striking big chords with viewers, even down to restoring interest in the movie musical.

All the while, even when the world was shown to be falling apart, people were becoming divided, and bitterness cast an intimidating shadow, 2016 was also full of countless seemingly insignificant, but no less hopeful personal stories of love and unity, reminding us that even the smallest actions can make significant ripples affecting the people and places around us. Even as fear and uncertainty set in, alliances become tested, universal rights are shamefully and wrongfully taken away, and our most powerful government officials abuse their power for their own selfish agendas, what we must never forget about mankind is that we are not defined by our symbols, but by our people, those not concerned with trivial things like race, gender, sexual preference, or religion, who help to better us every day, sharing unconditional love, and celebrating those differences that, strangely enough, make us more similar than we think.

And like always, even our selection of films, and the common love of good cinema, showed a great deal of unity between audiences. And to be fair, while my pickings were a bit slim this year, the good from this year was still plenty to go around. However, I would like to make it known that there are still a few highly acclaimed titles I have yet to get around to, including what was my most anticipated film of the year, Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman, so this list as always is purely how it currently stands as I form it.

First up are some honorable mentions. In eleventh was 13th, Ava DuVernay's scathing examination of the cruelty and discriminating nature of the prison system, and how racism is secretly embedded within the US constitution on a repeating loop. While it didn't have the novelty of the original, Pixar's Finding Dory was a hugely satisfying and hilarious adventure, expanding on its title character in terrific ways without dumbing the drama of the piece down. Loving was a subdued, but greatly executed love story, treating its interracial lead couple played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga in very modest and compassionate ways, using its central focus to say greater things about the nature and universal rights of marriage today. Elle played like a dark subversion of terrible Lifetime movies, crafting a disquieting and eerie web of secrets born from sexual liberation and dominion, with Isabelle Huppert crafting a cold, but dubious title character moving the other figures in her life like pawns. Finally, The Jungle Book may have been slight, but improved upon its animated counterpart in storytelling, making use of a perfect voice cast, and featured some of the greatest and most seamless CGI I've ever seen in a movie.
Lastly, while it isn't a movie, I want to give a huge shout-out to game developer Naughty Dog for their epic finale to the Uncharted series, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Not only a great send-off to its beloved characters while exploring them in more direct ways, delivering on sweeping and gorgeous visuals and epic set-pieces, a total riot to explore and traverse the gorgeous environments, but also for delivering on adrenaline-pumping exhilaration and story depth so powerful, it puts modern blockbusters to shame.

Having said that, it's time to get started. So if you must blink, do it now...

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Top Ten Worst Films of 2016.

As usual, I'm the last on the bandwagon to bid 2016 adieu, but always better late than never to catch up with any last minute surprises before moving on, and trust me, it's always well worth it to find those last few incredible gems before wishing a year goodbye. Although, a better send-off for 2016 would probably be good riddance. Let's face it, 2016 was a lousy year. And I'm not merely talking about films, of which while there were a good deal of gems to be found (including one that might well be the best film of the decade), those were unfortunately burdened by stretches of utterly limp and lackluster fare, sequels that nobody asked for, and one of the most unenthusiastic Summer slates I've seen in recent memory.

More importantly, 2016 was a bad year not merely for films, but for the world in general. For one, it was a year with some of the most shocking group of iconic celebrity deaths I can remember, with figures like David Bowie, Muhammed Ali, Prince, Anton Yelchin, Alan Rickman, R2-D2 performer Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, and Leonard Cohen among a few of them. The joint death of mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher brought the year to a grim and deeply depressing close, and even now it feels so hard to believe they're really gone.

Not only that, 2016 was a year that seemed to bring out the most cynical in people, with prominent events that included the passing of the Brexit movement, the tragic terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida, Paul Feig's all-female Ghostbusters becoming the year's most hated and controversial film before anyone saw a single frame of it, all before capping everything off with Donald Trump being elected as President of the United States. As much as I try to steer away from politics on my blog, it's a sad state that we're in, and it's one that could very well get worse as time goes by, threatening to put back walls - both figuratively and literally - that we as a people have fought so hard to abolish.

But that's not what I'm here for, although putting these lists together do allow me some much needed venting for my frustrations. I've seen a rough total of about 100 films from 2016, though there are still plenty of badly received titles out there I haven't watched (even I can't tolerate every bad movie), so I've been lucky to escape such dreck as Norm of the North, I'm Not Ashamed, The Darkness, Masterminds, and Boo! A Madea Halloween. Also, I didn't see the scornful Hillary's America from documentary filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, but I'm certain that would have been high up on this list if I did, with so-called historian D'Souza continuing to misrepresent facts for his hyperbolic propaganda pieces, and shamefully stirring more tension in an already upset time for America. D'Souza clearly wants to be the right-wing answer to Michael Moore, but feels more in line to be a modern day Leni Riefenstahl, only without the artistry to mask his politics.

As for the films I did end up seeing, as always, it's time for some dishonorable mentions before the big ten. Just missing the list was YouTube Red's first original movie Lazer Team from Rooster Teeth, a poor man's match up between Chronicle and a Happy Madison movie, stretching its low budget charm and grating sense of humor thin. Independence Day: Resurgence tried to be bigger than its predecessor, but lacked any of the heart or the spirit of the original, recreating old plot points like a carbon copy, and going absolutely overboard in its attempts to one-up the first. The whitewashed Gods of Egypt became this year's Jupiter Ascending, squandering its hefty budget on a lazily cobbled together script, garnering poor performances, and boasting CGI effects that would've looked dated in the 90's. Morgan was the directorial debut of Ridley Scott's son Luke, that revolved around a script loaded with plot-holes and logic gaps, and populated by intelligent characters making exclusively dumb decisions. Assassin's Creed was yet another bad video game adaptation, choosing to focus more on the present day corporation story with bland characters, and failing to be able to please either fans or newcomers to the series, trying and failing to be another Inception.

Okay, now that that's all been addressed, let's hurt some movies. Really, really, bad...